A Return to the Past, A Path to the Future

A landscape photograph. The background is made of a gray sky peaking through the branches of leafless trees which are covered in cascades of blooming wisteria, appearing as a purple haze around the branches. The foreground is vibrant green, mostly wisteria and ivy, a few blooms of wisteria clearly visible. To the right in the foreground is the corner of an abandoned house, paint peeled away and mostly gray, darker than the sky, with remnants of vibrant teal pain along the bottom edges. Photograph by author.

So, I tried a new thing. In Gaelic Polytheism, we don’t usually celebrate what many Pagans call the “Quarter Days,” (Yule, Ostara, Litha, Mabon) usually just celebrating our Fire Festivals that most of the generally Pagan Cross-quarter Days come from (Samhain, Imbolc, Bealtaine, Lughnasadh). A few years ago, maybe longer, I started celebrating Grianstad an tSamhraidh (Midsummer). We know historically that rent was payed to Manannán Mac Lir for his protection of Ellan Vannin (Isle of Mann) and in southern Ireland Áine was honored at the same time. A year or so after that, I also decided it made sense to celebrate Grianne at the opposite point of the year, Grianstad an Gheimhridh (Midwinter).

But for the last couple years, it’s really struck me how much that doesn’t line up with my seasons Down South. I’d already made mental adjustments, thinkin of the holidays truly as the beginning of seasons rather than just days, but it still wasn’t right. And it makes sense. This far south of Ireland, our climate varies muuuuch more wildly. Our winters are shorter (though can be colder or warmer), come later, leave sooner. We rarely get snow. And our summers come soon are are easily 30°F/21°C hotter. We have much faster and more visible transitions. So, oddly enough, I’ve moved forward while lookin back, so to speak. This year, I decided to use the Spring Equinox (I don’t know the Irish for this or how appropriate it would be) to officially say goodbye to Grianne for the year and welcome Áine. It was nothin major, but it felt nice to do it. I’ve got a pair of candles on either end of my house, one for each that represent winter and summer that I burned from sundown to sundown and gave water to Grianne for her rest while offering flowers to Áine as a welcome and thanks for the warmth to come. The plan, I think, is to do the inverse come Autumn Equinox and incorporate this into my relgious calendar.

An image of Áine’s shrine. A y’all candle in summer shades of yellows, oranges, and a few reds is surrounded by pink and white azalea blooms, a purple iris, unknown small white flowers in clusters on branches, and cascades of wisteria, all on a teal table. There is a window behind that is dark, reflecting the light from inside the house. Photograph by author.

It’s strange because, after years of somewhat retraining my brain to forget the 8 holidays of the wheel, I’m seemingly returning to them, but in a decidedly different way. Just as Grianstad an tSamhraidh and Grianstad an Gheimhridh are relatively minor holidays with simple offerings, so are the Equinoxes. Or so will they be. To me, it makes sense, both as a modern practitioner and one decidedly influenced (as we all are, whether someone wants to admit it or not) by modern Pagan practices and communities. I think I fought this for as long as I did because of clinging to a Recon label, but I find that so constricting now. Is my practice any less informed by history? Not at all. I’m simply makin room for new ideas and evolution. And if I decide I don’t like it or it doesn’t work, I can always drop it again. But for now, it feels right.

Additionally, as I begin to explore ADF, it makes sense to me to find meaning in times like this that I, personally, already find meaningful. And who is to say that this wouldn’t have been a natural evolution anyway? So often anymore, it seems that hardcore Gaelic Recons want to simply act as gatekeepers rather than spiritually sound people or even individuals who can agree that all our practices won’t look the same. Just as Áine was honored locally, not nationally considering that’s a modern construct itself, it only drives home the point of a truly local cultus that can express the needs and desires of practitioners.

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Another Ancestor Born

I prayed to Jesus for the first time in 16 years this week and it left quite the impression…

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As an ex-Christian, as many of us are, I’ve worked hard to move past and let go of the anger and sheer hatred toward Christianity, Christians, and organized religion that I developed over the years of mistreatment I faced in a Christian church. But those emotions still surface from time to time. This time, however, felt different. 

As I watched my grandfather lay in a hospital bed of the burn unit, I prayed to Brighid for healing. I prayed to Airmid to guide the nurses and let the medicines do their best. I prayed to Miach to restore his body. And I prayed to Jesus, the god of my grandfather, to see his child and heal him. This wasn’t somethin I did lightly or without a great deal of thought, both previously in the abstract and in the moment of need. But then Pap-ah died. 

I knew it was comin. He’d gone from sittin up, talkin, and jokin to gaspin for breath even with an oxygen mask on his face. He was no longer able to understand why he had been restrained. And finally he had to be re-intubated, only to progress to multi-organ failure. I knew. I’ve worked in emergency veterinary medicine too long to not see the parallels. And then we made the decision that we never should’ve had to make to just keep him comfortable until the inevitable happened. Unlike my world, we couldn’t stop the suffering for him, but I’m also not sure I could’ve made it. 

And then I was angry again. Angry st Pah-pa for bein his normal stubborn self and not listenin to anyone when he was told to just let the branches dry out some more before he burned em. Mad that he didn’t have the water hose out there like he normally does. Irritated that people kept blamin his strokes for the behavior and not realizing that he’s always been that way. Angry at myself for not takin it as seriously as I should’ve when we first got the call. And finally, furious that Jesus had failed to do what he should’ve done and saved Pap-ah. But then I had to stop. My gods hadn’t saved him either. 

Havin now been a Polytheist of some sort for 13+ years, I know that my gods don’t intervene every time I ask. I know that this doesn’t mean they don’t care or arent listenin, but when it came to Jesus, that evangelical Protestant upbringin came rushin back. And I’d gone so far as to pray to a god that I still have some issues with! And for someone he supposedly loves. But just as quickly, I began to reconcile that how I viewed Jesus doesn’t line up with how I view any other gods and that I’d just never taken the time to purge that old thought process. 

I don’t for a second buy the line that “it was his time” and frankly find that to be bullshit. No one survives scarlet fever, the Great Depression, more injuries and surgeries than can be recounted, and 4 strokes only to die from secondary complications from a burn. I’ll never believe that. This was all the result of a careless decision and denying that doesn’t make it any less painful or true. 

But none of this changes the outcome. It’s vertically challenged my beliefs and worldview, but ultimately strengthened them as best I can tell. It’s revealed my views on gods in general, already there but non-verbalized. My worldview remains the same, but more concrete in its execution. Though I have no doubts that Pap-ah would’ve disapproved of my beliefs about most everything in life, I truly hope he’s now at peace and able to see me for who I truly am and how I navigate the world. I pray that he’s at peace and will forever keep a protective and loving eye out for me. 

Saturday, we lay my last father-figure to rest. At 31, I’m now the oldest living male in my immediate family line and the seriousness and mortality of that is heavy. In just 4 years, I’ll be as old as my father was when he joined the ancestors; I’d be lyin if I didn’t admit that terrifies me. But I can’t do anything but keep movin forward. All any of us can do is keep movin forward and pray that when we join the ancestors ourselves, we’re ready. 

White dogwood flowers on a blown out green grassy background

The flower of his home state and the name of his eternal resting place…

Pulse: When Hearts Stop Beating

In a crowd of people golding candles, a masculine person's arm with a medium brown skin tone is painted in the colors of the rainbow and is outstretched holding a candle in a plastic cup. There are many more peopl ein the background holding candles and there palm trees and tall buildings with rainbow lights in the far background.

When I decided I wanted to write about death last year, I don’t think I foresaw just how many things relating to death that I’d be writing about, but here we are again. This is about my own experience with this tragedy, faced 650 miles away from the actual events, but one that hit home in a way I was completely unprepared for. This is a pretty long post, but it was incredibly cathartic and hopefully helpful for other folks.

Today marks the 1st anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub Massacre in Orlando, one of the deadliest mass shootings in US history. This time last year, I was takin my final classes of my undergraduate career, Spanish oddly enough, and tryin to survive on a little over $500/month when my rent alone cost that much; I still can’t figure out how I made it. What little I was making came mostly from an employer who is homophobic, transphobic, ableist, full-fledged misogynist, and casually racist. I was also fightin my university for not protecting Queer, POC, disabled, female, or any minority status students; fightin with the state legislature for literally makin it illegal to fund the Office for Diversity & Inclusion (the law has now expired, but no clue what’s actually happenin yet); and tryin to lead a group of student leaders (who had been stabbed in the back days earlier by a now ousted member) in these efforts through “respectable” means while participating in a more radical organization that was willin to do whatever it took. I was at wits end, just tryin to make it to August when I would officially graduate, move home, and pay off some debt. I just had absolutely nothin left to give. And then it happened.

The massacre happened on Saturday night and I was working 12 hour shifts on Sundays, so I’d gone to bed fairly early. Sundays tend to be a pretty busy day in a veterinary ER, but for whatever reason, we were fairly slow that morning. I don’t remember what was on TV, but I got a Facebook alert that a friend had “marked themselves safe,” a feature I’d only seen a time or two before after some major event. I didn’t have a clue what had happened since I’d gone to bed early, so I googled and felt like I’d been slammed in the gut. At that point, no one had any idea what happened and there were *only* 12 victims or so. But over the next couple hours, the count climbed higher and higher until it hit 49. We stayed pretty slow and I later realized my coworkers just let me sit in front of the TV all day. They check on me, sat with me when we didn’t have anything goin on, andnever asked to change the channel. I was just floored. I had to go to the bathroom to cry a couple times, but I absolutely lost it when I got into my car at the end of the day. I sat and collected myself before headin back to an empty house since my roommate was in Norway for an internship to finish up his degree.

When I got home, the first thing I did was pop open my laptop. We’d cut off our cable to save money, so I stayed glued to social media and then news clips I could see online and kept my phone in my hand to look at multiple sites at once. I cried all night long and at 4am, realizing what time it was, I knew there was no way I was gonna be able to function in class, so I emailed my professor. Thank the gods, he understood and didn’t count the absence against me. He even moved the quiz that was supposed to happen that day so that I wouldn’t miss it. Turns out he’d seen several of the interviews I’d done on local news and could probably fathom how hard I was takin all this.

The next little bit was a blur. The recently fired director of our defunded Pride Center organized a vigil with counsellors present for Tuesday and I went to that. Of course, university administrators – some of whom had flat out laughed at student safety concerns –  showed up and attempted to co-op the event in person and on social media as if they’d planned it, which only made it harder. We couldn’t even totally just grieve because we were all just so damn angry that they were there. At one point, through tears, I called out the university’s (now former) chancellor and told him that people like him were directly responsible for so much of the grief in the room; he rolled his eyes at me. Typical for him and the tone he set for pretty well the whole of admin.

All of this has led me to the decision I seem to have made without even realizing it. I think it’s important here to disclose, if you didn’t already know, that I’m a white cis gay man. As all the facts came out, it was obvious that the majority of the victims in this massacre were of Puerto Rican and/or Latinx descent and that the attack happened on Latin Night. Whether this crime was intended to specifically target Queer/LGBTQ+ Latinx PoC or not, they were the majority of the casualties and if this event impacted me so heavily, I can only imagine what people closer to the location or who shared more common identities with the victims felt. But because of the visceral reaction I had, one that I feel pangs of any time one of our siblings is lost, I’ve decided that I want to incorporate a special day of ancestral remembrance. Through honoring those that have preceded us all, many of whom have paid the ultimate price, I hope that we can truly unite the community more. June is already Pride Month (even though both my hometown and the city I’m movin to celebrate in October because of the heat, lol), plus the Pulse anniversary will fall in June every year, so it only makes sense to me. I’m also toying with the idea of a Queer ancestor elevation to help all those lost to violence or who never got to live as their authentic selves because of their Queer/LGBTQ+ identities, but because of everything happening in my own life this year, I’m gonna wait and plan to start that next year. Today, I’ll be honoring the victims of the Pulse Massacre by reading their names and prayin for them. I’ll be prayin that Brighid offers comfort to their families and/or to them as needed (especially the person whose father wouldn’t even claim their remains), that Airmid and Miach continue to heal those still with us, and that Manannán mac Lir casts his mist of protection around Queer/LGBTQ+ people the world over. It’s a small gesture that I hope grows with time, though not in terms of numbers or necessity. I want the ritual to have a feeling of breadth because, while spurred by the Pulse tragedy, they are far from our only siblings lost. Folks Leelah Alcorn, Islan Nettles, Matthew Shepard, and far too many others have been lost far too soon and we can’t forget them, nor the gains we’ve made as a community from the publicity of their deaths. We can’t change what’s happened, but we can honor them as we continue the fight to prevent it from happening again.

A single while taper candle is burning in the center of the fram, held by a hand that is at the bottom of the frame and the edge of the back of someone's head on the right of the frame. In the background, blown out lights in the colors of the rainbow fill most of the image.

But the sad fact is that this isn’t one community, even though I wish it were a more unified one. The reality is that Black SGL folks don’t face the same struggles that Latinx Queer people do, who don’t face the same struggles as White LGBTQ+ folks do, who don’t…you get my drift. We all share elements of common identity, but that hasn’t stopped anti-Black or -Brown sentiment from it’s prevalent place in many Queer circles. To truly move forward, we (White folks) have to do the hard work of fighting racism in our worlds, listening to out PoC siblings, and making those changes despite whatever discomforts we may find in those moments.

May na Dé protect us all and may we grow together, move forward, and forge a new world for those who will call us “ancestor.”

A Prayer for the Soul in my Arms

When Airmid’s herbs and Micah’s tricks
Can’t heal the pain and relieve the sick,
May I and Flidais comfort you
With whisps of pink and streams of blue.

While Brighid’s touch and loving caress
Gathers and holds who loved you best,
To the West, across the sea,
Let Manannán mac Lir carry thee

To Tech Duinn where Donn still dwells
An isle of stone among the swells
To rest yourself and mend your soul
After this life has exacted its toll.

And when it’s time to move again,
For Tír na nÓg to let you in,
Eat the fruit and draw your breath
And never again know pain in death.

This is my own original work. It’s a prayer I’ve been tryin to write for years now and haven’t been able to. However, in the last 48 hours, it seems to have just flowed. I found myself sneakin away to write as I felt it and now that I’ve compiled it, it feels…whole.

This is the 2nd part of my Deathwork series.

My Polytheism

6 people stand in this image, 2 to the left and 4 in the center and right. All are fressed in solid black. The person on the far left is  femme, has glasses and is holding a  sign, bit the text isn't visible. The person next tonthe right is in a hijab. Both of these people are looking toward the other 4 people. The next person is femme, has medium-dark skin, is wearing several small buttons, and is smiling widely at a person farther right. The next person is a light-skinned PoC with long hair andnis looking down. She is wearing sunglasses. the nest person is a light skinned white masculine person with his hair pulled up in a bun. He is wearing a rainbow bracelt, white arm band, sunglasses, abs is speaking into a microphone. The last person is Asian, is looking at the person to  the left, and is standkng with his hand on his hip.

Organizers speak at the #MassClassExit staged by #UTDiversityMatters at the University of Tennessee -Knoxville in spring 2016.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about my own religious practice lately. I’ll start by sayin that I’ve been in what I often hear referred to as a “fallow time,” or so I thought. See, I’ve been in a place in my life where I haven’t had much time to devote to religious practice. I just graduated with a BFA in Photography and BA in Religious Studies after a 12 year uphill battle. I was also simultaneously working 3 jobs and heading up a group of student leaders trying to save our LGBTQIA+ Center from a university and state legislature that are hellbent on forcing us back into the closet. Sure, I think it about religion regularly and a while back came to the conclusion that my life and decisions are constantly influenced by my religion (that’s another topic I’ve been meanin to talk about since right before Gods & Radicals really seemed to blow up. But that’s for another day) but I rarely had much time to do anything about it. But now that I’m taking a year off to prep for grad school, I should have more time for my religious practice, right? Well, that’s what I thought, too.

But I’ve come to a realization. As my life is so influenced by my view of my gods, what they would find pleasing, and what they expect from me, I noticed what had been in front of me all along. Just as my practice has and will change when shifting regions, it had changed without me even noticing. I was living my Polytheism. My activism, organizing, and protesting was inspired by and an honor to Na Mórrígna. My work with fellow Queer people was honoring Manannán mac Lir, forging new and liminal spaces and working with people transitioning in various ways. My attempts to create a safe space, a home away from home or in lieu of home as so many of us described it, honors Brighid. Working, existing, and forging new spaces in the South, upholding the almighty Southern hospitality honor my ancestors, both recent and ancient. My work in emergency veterinary medicine, my source of income and first passion, honors Flidais. My healing and nursing honor Airmid and Miach. My care of the suffering, even if it means ending their suffering, honors Donn, too. My studying and academic aspirations honor Ogma. Filling in the gaps and making everything work honors Lugh, the master of all trades.

A black mortarboard sits on a wooden desk. The mortarboard has been painted to say

A collage of graduation accoutrement

All of these ideas act on my simultaneously and I act them out in return. They are a part of me. I am a part of them. While I have every intention of resuming regular offerings and prayers, celebrating holidays with big meals, and all the other things I’ve done in the past, I also realize that it doesn’t have to look like that. My Polytheism is just that: MINE. It is a lived tradition. It is an evolving tradition. One that I hope to grow and pass down, to share with others, but one that that is ultimately mine.

That said, I’ve already started setting up shrines in my new space and I couldn’t feel more at home.